There is quite a lot of preparation that goes into photographing sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) at a lek. Of course you have to know about the exact location of the lek and some basic biology and behavior of the sage grouse. Then you have to figure out where to set up the blind and what your approach will be to the blind in the dark. I typically set up camp about 1/2 mi away from the lek across a ridge and well out of sight. This way I do not disturb the birds when I am at the camp site but I am close enough to minimize the time involved getting to the blind in the dark. There is a lot of gear involved; that is why I use a bicycle and a trailer, at least to get all my stuff to the camp site. Then I simply carry the blind and associated photo gear to the lek on foot during the day and set it up when the birds are not there. The approach to the blind the following morning in the dark must be stealthy; you cannot be seen or heard by the sage grouse, so preparation and taking your time are essential.
This time my friend Emiliano Ferguson joined me. He has a project in school that deals with threatened and endangered wildlife, hunting, poaching and other things that we do that may negatively affect wildlife. He also wanted to know what we can do to help the animals. Sage grouse are considered "near threatened" (IUCN, 2013) and some populations in the USA are doing poorly. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that sage grouse should be protected under the Endangered Species Act, but this has not happened yet. However, this does not mean that there is no conservation action happening for the sage grouse. Some stakeholders, including ranchers and other landowners, are trying to make things better for sage grouse so that listing under the Endangered Species Act may be avoided. Some of the relatively simple conservation measures are to remove livestock fences that may no longer be necessary or to make livestock fences more visible to the sage grouse by attaching markers, reflectors or flags to the wires. These measures are especially recommended in areas with relatively high population densities and near leks where sage grouse concentrate during the mating season. The fence markers reduce grouse fence strikes by about 70%. This can be considered highly effective and I agree that these types of efforts are a very good thing. I am not sure though if this will be sufficient as the threats to sage grouse are varied and include changes in land use that are beyond the immediate control of many ranchers; particularly oil and gas and development.
Click here for other images of the blind, microphone outside the blind, our campsite and the bicycles and trailer we used to haul our gear.
Click here for images of sage grouse.
Click here for images of fence markers, reflectors or flags for sage grouse on livestock fences.
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Image below: Emiliano Ferguson looks from the blind and approach screens at a sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) lek, Montana.
Image below: Emiliano Ferguson setting up camp near a sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) lek, Montana, USA.
Image below: Emiliano Ferguson in front of livestock fence with markers for sage grouse.